melissa_42: drawn woman in a sweater (Default)
[personal profile] melissa_42
Title: The Tower
Fandom: Latin Hetalia
Characters: Luciana/Martina (fem!Brazil/fem!Argentina)
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for a crazy, creepy enchantress and some thorn-induced injuries
Word Count: 8,000~
Summary: Fairy tale AU based on the story of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm
A/N: This is for Aluha for the 2011 Secret Santa at the latin_hetalia comm. She requested an adaptation of Rapunzel. I'm so sorry if it's creepier than you wanted!

Characters are not mine.



In the light of the rising sun, a woman, heavy with child, rose from her bed and leaned against the sill of the window, gazing out over her neighbor’s fence at the garden below. A vast array of all things green grew in the dark dirt—herbs and vegetables, all varieties of lettuce, peas, and peppers, and along the eastern edge, a patch of rapunzel tufts taunted her, gleaming in the first rays of sunlight. Her mouth watered, and her stomach clenched achingly for just the smallest taste.

For weeks her skin had grown paler and thinner, like parchment dried by the sun, faded and brittle. She was wasting away. If only she could have just a bit of the rapunzel, she was sure she would feel better. Just a bit.

Behind her, her husband stirred, lifting his head from the pillow to rest it upon one hand.

“You worry me, my dear,” he murmured. “Come back to bed.”

She turned, fixing him with eyes as dead as a corpse’s. “But if I could only have just a taste of the rapunzel…” Her knuckles were white as she clenched the window sill. “Why must I be unsettled so?”

“It’s just the pregnancy. My sister was the same with her child. She ate sweet potatoes until she was sick,” her husband said. “Sweet potatoes I can get for you; are you sure you wouldn’t prefer them? Do you really need the rapunzel from the enchantress’s garden?”

“I don’t know if…” She sighed, a rasp of dried leaves in an autumn gust.

That night, the man crept over the high, stone wall, clinging to the cracks between the crumbling mortar, and landed with a dull thud in the soft dirt on the other side. The vast array of plants was tempting, but he only needed a bit of rapunzel, just enough to satisfy his poor, weakened wife. High above him, the moon shone just barely through the clouds dotting the sky, shadows passing over the neat little rows of green, almost gray in the night. He crept along the edge of the plot, around the corner and over to the little patch of land that had been calling to his wife for weeks, driving her mad with longing.

With a snap of his wrist, the deed was done. He pocketed the leaves and scampered back over the wall with the speed of a man a decade younger. His wife called out when the front door creaked open.

“What are you doing out at this time of night?” she asked, tracing his movements with her eyes in the dark as he pulled on his nightclothes and slid into bed beside her. “Is that…” she sniffed the air. “I smell it.”

“Tomorrow, dear,” he told her, laying a placating hand over her forehead. “I will prepare it for you tomorrow.”

The next day, her every movement was filled with renewed life as she sat at the sturdy kitchen table, watching her husband slice up carrots and radishes over a bed of rapunzel. After the first bite, brought to her mouth with reverence, she sighed.

“It’s better than I’d anticipated. Thank you, love. This is just what I needed.”

Her husband smiled at her and kissed her cheek, but he froze at the sound of her next words.

“Do you think you’d be able to pick some more? I just…it’s so good, and I just…I just need it.” She looked so pitiful that it was impossible for him to do anything more than smile weakly and nod. If this would help her regain her vigor, no enchantress could stop him from picking rapunzel for her.

The man was slightly more confident the second time around. On this night the cloud cover completely blotted out the moon and the stars, casting the world in darkness. The man wore the night like a cloak, stealing into the enchantress’s garden like a seasoned thief. This time he had a plan to clip enough rapunzel to tide his wife over for at least a week. Perhaps by then she would have gotten over her addiction to the plants.

With his satchel laden with rapunzel slung over his back, he turned back to the fence.

“I see my garden has such an attractive bounty that you feel you must sneak in at night and steal from it.”

Despite her small stature, the enchantress was a formidable presence; the man could not look from her gaze. His breath felt frozen in his lungs, and as the seconds ticked by, he began to see flashing stars at the edge of his vision. Finally he managed to force out a Sorry.

“I’m sure you are,” the enchantress said, “but mere words are not enough. I need a token of your remorse.” She tapped her lip with the tip of her index finger, flicking her eyes up and down his frame. “I think I shall keep you.”

“No, please,” the man begged, finding himself collapse to his knees in a panic. His jittering hands grasped at the edge of her cloak. “Please let me go, I beg you.”

“How about a compromise,” she offered after watching him sweat for a moment. “You may go free to serve your dear, sweet wife that rapunzel you have stolen from me, and as long as you never trespass upon my property and take what is not yours, you may live in peace. In return, I request your first born child. Have no worries, for I shall care for her as if she were my own.”

“Yes, yes, anything.” He bent his head to kiss her feet, and found himself kissing his own pillow. Next to him, his wife rolled over.

“I didn’t even hear you come in,” she murmured.

He blinked at her and whispered back, “I think I have made a terrible mistake.”

-

A month later, a daughter was born to them just before daybreak. The woman lay propped up by pillows on their bed, drenched in sweat as the midwife cleaned up. The baby cried in her arms, its skin red and blotchy in the low candle light. Finally allowed in by the midwife, the man wiped his wife’s forehead clean and stroked a gentle hand over the tiny tuft of shockingly pale hair at the top of his daughter’s head. He kissed his wife’s temple and turned his head at the sound of someone clearing their throat.

“It is time for you to uphold your end of our bargain,” the enchantress said, standing at the foot of the bed with her arms crossed. The new mother held her baby more tightly to her bosom, while her husband laid a protective hand on her shoulder. Still, neither could stop the enchantress when she strode over to them and plucked the child from their grasp.

“I wanted to name her Martina,” the woman pleaded, holding out her arms lethargically for the screaming babe. “Please, I want her to be called Martina.”

“Her name will be Rapunzel,” the enchantress said, and then she was away with the girl, like the flame of an extinguished lamp. And so the new parents found themselves no longer new parents, left staring at the space from which their daughter had disappeared. When they gazed out their side window later that day, they found the enchantress’s house in shambles and the garden a plot of barren land, as if the property had not been inhabited in years. They told their family and neighbors that their daughter had died shortly after child birth, before she could be christened.

“A lost soul,” the gossipers murmured, but soon she was forgotten, for it was not such an unusual occurrence. The name Martina was never again spoken in the couple’s household, except in barely heard whispers in their dreams.

This is the end of their story, for they went on to live remarkably unremarkable lives and died remarkably unremarkable deaths.

-

For the next decade, the enchantress and the girl she called Rapunzel lived at the edge of the woods in a little hut, growing plants that the enchantress, whom Rapunzel thought was her own mother, sold at the market. Not once in all her years did Rapunzel have her hair cut, so it grew like a river of pale gold down her back and to the floor, though the enchantress often kept it in braids so that she would not dirty it in the garden. It was a testament of her loyalty and love for her mother, who often lamented openly the day that her dear, sweet daughter would leave her to die alone in their hut. Rapunzel loved her mother and could not fathom leaving her, so she followed her wishes, however frustrating they might have been. She had once strayed from their plot of land for all of fifteen minutes, but after hearing her mother’s livid screams, she never again tried to explore the land outside her dominion. She was never allowed into town, and when visitors came for her mother, she was hidden away in the house as a precaution against the dangers of the world, or so her mother explained it. Rapunzel did not know any different.

When she was not manipulating her, the enchantress treated her like a little princess, sewing the prettiest dresses of foreign silks and satins for her and bringing back little treats of her favorite food from the market. Sometimes at night the girl heard her mother mumble half remembered spells and the name “Martina” in her sleep. When she asked her about the name, her mother became irate and slapped her hard across the face, and though her mother apologized as soon as it happened and returned with her favorite sweets the next day, the girl was shaken by the incident and never again mentioned the name in her presence. Even so, she began calling herself Martina when she was alone, for it was a pretty name and was much more stately than Rapunzel.

By the time she was twelve, it was obvious what a beautiful woman she would become. Jealous that others might take her prize, the enchantress shut her away in a high tower with neither a door nor stairs deep in the darkest part of the woods where she was instructed to guard the tower from intruders. She took her task quite seriously, and in the first few weeks sat by the single window of the tower, gazing out over the brambles in the small clearing around the base with hawkish eyes. That soon bored her, so she begged her mother to bring her an instrument, a guitar, in order to amuse herself. When the enchantress came to visit during the day, she stood at the base of the tower and called out:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair.


With great care, for she prided herself in the beauty of her hair, Martina would hang her locks over a hook above the window and throw her braids down to her mother, and then she would pull her up, grunting with the effort. They would sit and talk, and Martina would serve a pot of mate and whatever treats her mother had last brought her, and her mother would brush her hair and tell her how beautiful she was becoming. She would call her Rapunzel and leave, and then Martina was left alone once again in the evening.

Nighttime was the worst, when the sounds of the forest drifted through her window, and the darkness pressed in on Martina like a suffocating cloak. She lay curled up in her bed, facing the wall and shivering as she told herself how strong she was, how she was not afraid, despite the whining of the wind, and the shapes thrown on the floor by the mottled glow of the moonlight peaking in through the clouds. As she wiped away glowing moisture from her eyes with the heels of her hands, she wondered if the loneliness would pass or if it was simply a childish phase.

During the day she made music, songs crooned of longing and loss, unsure of what she actually wanted, only sure that she wanted. She smiled and enjoyed her mother’s company while it lasted, ate up her mother’s praises, and bid her a bittersweet farewell in the evening, staring out the window at the trees long after her mother had disappeared from view.

-

The king of the land had a daughter by a wide-hipped woman with skin as dark as rich soil who died shortly after she gave birth. He named his daughter Luciana, and despite her illegitimacy, he let her live with him for she was his only child. For the first few months, Luciana and her caramel skin and her full lips were the talk of the land, but soon she was relegated to the tomes of normality, just another bastard child by another king. When the king’s own wife gave birth to a son several years later, he had a new child to dote on, an heir, leaving Luciana with the independence to do as she pleased and go where she liked.

She saw her father forget her slowly over the course of the years, but she refused to let herself be preoccupied by such sorrow. Left to her own devices, she spent most of her time out riding through the towns and villages of the kingdom, talking with the people, and exploring the forest. Most people she talked to—and she talked to many people—feared the woods, the darkness of the unknown, but Luciana loved it. There was always something new to find, some new birdsong to hear, and when she began craving human contact again, it was always an adventure finding her way out. It was all great entertainment, and Luciana knew how blessed she was to be allowed such freedom, even if it came at a price.

One day in the late afternoon, just when Luciana was about to turn back in order to reach the stable before the sun dropped too far below the tree line, a sound drifted between the branches, catching her attention. It was soft and sweet and melancholic, like the creak of an eastern wind or the deep orange of a sunset upon the streets of an old grandmother’s hometown. It was like everything and nothing she had heard before, and she found herself drawn to it. She urged her horse onward through the trees, until she happened upon a path she had never seen before, narrow but well worn. As she started upon it, the sound, growing louder with each stride of her horse, changed. Now it was a voice, soft and low, so sweet that Luciana felt her heart ache with a deep pang of something that she could not remember missing. She found herself drawn to the voice that sang words she could not quite understand, following the trail to its end: a small clearing, the center of which held a tall, stone tower with neither a door nor stairs, surrounded by brambles. The voice and the music of the guitar drifted down from the single window near the very top of the tower, filling Luciana with such longing despite the words being incomprehensible. If only she could just catch a glimpse of the woman in the tower with the heavenly voice, she knew she would be happy. She followed the edge of the clearing around just beyond the tree line, stopping her horse behind a particularly wide trunk before peering up into the window. The angle still did not afford her a view of the singer, but what she could see was hair, beautiful, lustrous, golden hair, and the pale hand that brushed it. The woman’s face was still in shadows, but Luciana was sure that it was just as lovely.

Her horse shifted its feet, and a twig snapped under its hoof. The music stopped mid-syllable, and then the voice called out sharply. There was something just slightly…off…about it, and then Luciana blinked and realized that the woman was speaking Spanish.

“I know you’re there,” the voice called. “Show yourself.”

Luciana’s lips drew into a smile of their own accord, and she briefly considered urging her horse out into the clearing, when a small, round object hurdled into a tree to her left. The remains of a misshapen orange lay on the ground. From the tower the woman was shouting a rapid-fire string of words, of which Luciana only made out “tower,” and “intruder.”

Seriously, the nerve of the woman! She had just come to admire her songs, and she had nearly been decapitated for all her effort! What kind of person flew off the handle like that, just because there might have been someone listening to them? Luciana would show her; she would not come back the next day.

But her voice had been so beautiful… And maybe she had just scared her. Luciana would be jumpy too if she lived in the middle of a forest. Maybe if the woman could just meet her, she would not try to throw fruit at her. Luciana could just climb up the tower and introduce herself and teach the woman the dangers of throwing perfectly good fruit at people’s faces.

But how? The only entrance looked to be the window, and Luciana doubted that she could scale the smooth wall by herself.

She returned the next day in the early afternoon, locating the trail with ease, but the voice was absent this time. When she reached the tower once more, two voices spoke softly to each other and Luciana could barely hear what they said. She rode three times around the clearing, looking from between the trees for some way in.

“It must be so obvious,” she thought, leaning down to scratch her horse’s neck. “I’ll probably kick myself for not getting it sooner once I figure it out. If I figure it out.”

The next day she left in the early morning, laughing at her handmaidens’ pleas that she come back in time for the midday meal as she ran out the door to the stables. After an hour of riding, she finally came upon the same small trail, sighing happily when she heard the music again half way down the trail. She halted her horse in the woods just across from the window and listened, letting herself be swept away by the voice’s beauty. She needed to see the woman in the tower.

A rustling in the trees near the path drew her attention, and she held her breath as a middle aged woman in a heavy traveling cloak crept out into the clearing, and then into the brambles, picking her way carefully between the thorny branches before stopping just below the window.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair


the woman called, looking up to the window. After a few moments, the woman in the tower leaned over the sill and strung her hair over a hook before throwing it to the ground.

Luciana choked on her breath, and then quickly glanced around just in case someone, somewhere had heard her make such an embarrassing noise. The woman in the tower was a girl about her age with pale, pink skin and fine features like a porcelain doll. She hoisted the older woman up the side of the tower using her impossibly long, impossibly golden hair, her nose scrunched up in concentration.

So this was the girl who had been singing to—well, not to Luciana specifically, but that wasn’t the point. This was the girl with the Spanish tongue, the strong throwing arm, and the voice like honey. Luciana would have to tell her that it was not very nice to throw fruit at potential friends when she finally met her, and then she would ask her to sing for her, and then she would take her riding…

She was getting a little ahead of herself, but it was nice to dream.

-

Martina sat in her chair by the window with her guitar resting against her lap as she mindlessly strummed the chorus of the ballad she had been working on for the past week. The sun was warm, and what sky she could see over the tree tops was brilliant blue. The woods were as quiet as woods could be, suspiciously unsuspicious. It had been two days since Martina had heard the…the spy, or whatever had been out there. Her mother had acted unconcerned when she told her about how she had protected the tower, but Martina knew that it had not been a woodland creature. She had spent too much time alone in the tower to not recognize the sounds of her home. Part of her wished she could go out to check the edge of the woods for any clues as to what had been there, but her mother had expressly forbidden her from leaving the tower. Added to that was the fact that she physically could not and—

There was a loud crunch from somewhere in the woods nearby. Martina’s hand froze over the strings as her heart froze in her chest. When she finally began breathing again, she gently laid the guitar down and leaned over to the table to grab an orange. The brambles below the window rustled sharply, and a head of wild, black hair came into view. The intruder hissed at the thorns around her, and just as Martina, struck by shock, had shaken herself from the surprise of seeing a person below, a person who was not her own mother, a voice, slurred and nasally, called up to her.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair.


Martina let the orange fly. It missed the intruder by a meter, but it was enough to scare her into cursing. She glared up at Martina and shouted in a language that sounded like it should have been familiar but was not.

The tower was high off the ground, but Martina could still make out the intruder’s features, everything so full and round, and with skin so much darker than her mother’s or her own. She could not remember if…yes. This was the first time she had ever seen another human besides her own mother. If the intruder was even human, what with her skin and strange voice.

“I know what you want,” Martina finally stated. “And you’re not going to get it, not if I have anything to say about it.”

The person below said something in her strange language, and then said slowly, haltingly, “I heard your singing. It’s beautiful.”

Martina flushed scarlet and asked, “Who are you?”

“Luciana Da Silva,” the intruder answered. “Stop throwing things at me and let down your hair.”

“You’ve heard my singing…” Martina leaned further out the window and narrowed her eyes. “You were the one I heard in the woods the other day.”

Luciana shrugged. “My horse. Come on, let me up!”

“Don’t order me around,” Matrtina shot back. Below, Luciana pouted and scuffed a boot against the ground, and then jumped back when Martina dumped her hair down.

“Don’t just stand there all day. I’m not going to wait for you.”

Luciana was lighter than Martina’s mother, less of a strain on her arms. When Luciana reached the top, she fell through the window on top of Martina, knocking her to the ground.

“Ow, ow, ow! My hair!” Martina clutched her scalp, as Luciana scrambled off her and unwrapped her hair from the hook above the window. Then she stood staring, with Martina’s hair still in her hands. Martina felt her breath shudder from her nose, and she bit her lip to stop herself from shivering. Another human had just touched her, someone who was not her mother, and the touch had not felt anything like her mother’s touch, either. She felt hot all over, and she could tell that her face must be flushed. The other person’s—Luciana’s face was too different, too foreign for her to tell if she was experiencing the same reaction.

Luciana smiled widely and said, “I heard your singing a few days ago. Will you sing for me? Your voice is amazing.”

A trembling smile spread across Martina’s face. “Of course my voice is amazing. Who could expect anything less?”

“Is your name Rapunzel?” Luciana asked, extending a hand. “I’m Luciana, but I already said that before, but it’s a little more personal like this, don’t you think?”

Martina stared at her hand, at the way the skin of her palm was lighter than the backs of her fingers, and said, “I, uh, yes. I mean no. I—stop trying to confuse me! You want the tower, right?” She squared her shoulders and clenched her hands into fists.

“What? What the hell’s wrong with you?” Luciana furrowed her thick eyebrows. “I don’t care about your stupid tower. I just came because I thought your voice was pretty, and I thought you might be lonely out here in the woods all forgotten—”

“I’m not forgotten!” Martina could not believe the nerve of Luciana. Forgotten? Seriously? Her mother came every day, and she brought food and gifts and left when the sun began to set… She hugged herself. “I’m not lonely.”

“But aren’t you here all alone?”

“I’m guarding the tower. From people like you. And my name isn’t Rapunzel. Well, it is, but call me Martina.”

“Alright, Martina. Will you calm down and sing for me?” Luciana was smiling again.

The way her name rolled off Luciana’s tongue was satisfying. Martina skirted around her guest and sat on her seat by the window. She picked up her guitar, watching as Luciana sighed and muttered something in her own language before pulling another chair up beside her.

“You’re disturbing my normal singing time, so you’ll just have to listen to what I was practicing anyway,” Martina said, glaring at Luciana. “Prepare to be amazed.”

Luciana snorted and leaned back in the chair, fixing her eyes on her as Martina began to sing one of her older, more polished works. Martina ignored her gaze and focused on her songs, on the stories they spun and the journeys they took across the frets of her guitar. When she finished the first one, Luciana clapped her hands together, startling her.

“That was beautiful!” Luciana exclaimed. “Sing me another.”

Martina stroked a hand thoughtfully through her hair and said, “No. Let’s have some mate, first.”

Luciana was pouting again; Martina could not decide if it made her look annoying or endearing. She served the tea, docking a point from Luciana when she looked dubiously at the bombilla, and then another one when she rambled on about her adventures in the woods and the villages beyond. Well, maybe the stories only deserved a half point off, since Luciana smiled all through them, and her smile was very…

Martina bit her lip and shook her head when Luciana asked for what seemed like the tenth time if she had really never left the tower since her mother had brought her here.

“It’s my duty to protect the tower,” Martina growled very patiently. “Are you really that stupid that you can’t understand?”

“I’m not stupid, it’s just weird. How do you talk to people? Do they just have to come here?”

“My mother comes here during the day.” Martina turned her back to stoked the fire again.

“But what about everyone else?”

“What’s the point of protecting the tower if I let just anyone up?” Luciana really was an idiot if she could not understand such a simple concept.

“Are you saying that I’m the first person besides your mother that you’ve talked to?” Luciana looked even more surprised than she had when she had first seen the length of Martina’s hair. She grabbed Martina’s hand, cradling it in her own. “Come with me. We won’t be lonely if we’re together.”

“I can’t,” Martina wrenched hand away as if burnt. “I knew you were just trying to get me out of the tower so you could take it!”

“I don’t care about your stupid tower!”

“You’re a terrible liar!”

“Fine. You know what? Your singing isn’t worth your insanity.” Luciana stomped over to the window, muttering, “I just wanted to help.”

Martina followed her, throwing her hair over the hook outside so that she could climb down. As Luciana swung a leg over the edge of the window, Martina grabbed her shoulder.

“What, are you trying to kill me now?” Luciana asked, glaring up at her.

Martina’s heart pounded in her chest as she said, “My mother is never here in the evening or at night. And since I know you’ll miss my singing…”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Luciana shot back, and then she was scrambling down, looking up only briefly when her feet touched the ground before stomping off through the brambles.

Martina stared at the spot where she disappeared into the woods for a few minutes, trying to get her heart rate under control. That—that Luciana had been so infuriating, had made her face burn and her knees feel weak, and yet Martina felt just a little sorry to see her leave. She stayed at the window until the sun had completely set before sitting down to write a new song.

-

The next week was somehow unbearably lonely for reasons that Martina could not quite put her finger on, but which she blamed wholeheartedly on Luciana. After the fourth day, she wondered if perhaps she had scared her off for good, which, while probably what she was supposed to do, made her feel a little cheated. It had been too easy. She had expected more of her first visitor.

On the sixth day, after the sun had fallen below the horizon and Martina had lit the lamps of her room, she heard a great rustling from the window.

“Martina, Martina!”

She rushed to the window and peered out at the darkness. On the ground below, she could just barely make out a familiar figure. Without giving herself time to change her mind, she let down her hair and pulled Luciana up.

“So you couldn’t stay away?” she asked, rearranging her hair around herself.

Luciana grinned and said, “You can’t get rid of me that easily. I came back to hear more music.”

“It took you six days to come back?”

Luciana’s face pulled into a frown and she looked too stiff suddenly. “I can leave if you want.”

“No.” Martina bit her lip. “I mean, I have a new song. You’ll like it.”

“Alright. Let’s hear it.” Luciana sat at the table and propped her chin in her hands, looking so out of place and yet completely at home in the room.

The song was about loneliness on starlit nights and freedom and beauty, and Martina had convinced herself that it was not at all about Luciana, but now she was not so sure. When the last notes faded, she looked into Luciana’s eyes and smiled a little, despite herself.

“You were right,” Luciana said after a long while. “Did you really write that for me?”

“No,” Martina snorted and flushed, laying her guitar down to prepare some food for them. “Why would I write a song for a shorty impostor?”

“Hey! I’m not that short,” Luciana protested. “You just haven’t met enough people. You can’t compare yourself to everyone else when you’re so tall.”

“I’m just right. My mother even said so, and she’s seen many people, so it has to be true.” It was the truth, even if it sounded a little silly coming out of her mouth. But that was just Luciana’s fault for making her feel like…like there was something wrong with her for guarding the tower by herself all these years.

“Right, anyway, can I stay the night here?”

Martina nearly dropped the dishes in her hand, but with her natural grace, she was able to catch herself in time. She placed them on the table in front of Luciana and said, “What makes you think I’d want you to stay here?”

“Come on, I know you’re lonely. Besides, I already let my horse go back, you don’t want me walking back through the woods at night on foot, do you?”

Martina shrugged. “You would be fine, wouldn’t you? Nothing would see you because your skin is so dark—”

The chair fell to the floor with a loud crash from the force of Luciana standing up so suddenly. She glared at Martina, her mouth hanging open in disbelief. Martina stood frozen, staring at her sudden outburst.

“Did you just say that to my face?” Luciana whispered. “What is wrong with you?”

It really was not fair! Luciana could not just tell her she was doing things wrong, when there had been nothing wrong with her before she showed up. How was she supposed to know which little thing was going to set Luciana off next?

“There is nothing wrong with me,” Martina said, “so stop acting like there is. I didn’t…mean whatever you think I meant. I mean, I just meant that you would be able to return to your home in the dark without being seen. And that’s nothing to get upset over.”

Luciana’s hands were still trembling with agitation when she put the chair back in place and sat down again. “Right. Right, you wouldn’t even…” She sighed and scrubbed her face in her hands. “Well, it’s still dangerous, so just let me stay here, please?”

Martina laid out some sweet bread on the plates and sat across form her. “You had this planned, didn’t you?”

“…Maybe?”

She laughed. “If you’re so desperate for my presence, then I supposed I’ll just have to allow it this one time.”

“Alright then, princess.” Luciana snorted at her.

“But won’t someone wonder where you’ve gone?” Especially if Luciana spent as much time as she claimed around other people. Martina did not want a horde of worried villagers finding the tower in their search a missing girl.

Luciana shrugged and popped a piece of bread into her mouth. “No one would care if I disappeared. Oh, that reminds me—” She untied a long, linen scarf from around her waist. “This is for you. I’ll bring one each time I come visit you, so when you have enough you can tied them together and climb down from the tower with me. You can’t climb your own hair, right?” She reached across the table and handed Martina the length of cloth. It felt heavy with possibilities in her hand.

After holding it to her chest for a moment, Martina rose and tucked it under her mattress. Then she went to her wardrobe and said, “I’m going to assume that you don’t have any nightclothes. My mother brings me a lot of pretty clothes, but I’m not sure if anything will fit you.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something,” Luciana replied.

They stayed up and talked until both were fighting back yawns, and Martina finally crawled into her bed and waited to see what Luciana would do.

What Luciana did was crawl under the sheets and curl up beside her, resting her cheek against Martina’s collarbone. Her fingers burned through Martina’s thin nightgown, through her skin and her muscles, and the heat of Luciana’s smile burned through her heart. In the morning, they rose with the sun, tired from lack of sleep and limply clinging to each other, blurry eyed in the dimness of the tower.

Luciana pressed her lips to Martina’s once more, softly, and bade her farewell before rappelling down the tower.

-

It was several weeks and several scarves later. Martina’s makeshift rope hung nearly three-quarters of the way down the tower, and one of her simpler dresses from her younger days had been designated “Luciana’s night clothes.”

After the third time that her mother said, “You’ll stay here forever for me, won’t you my dear Rapunzel,” Martina asked Luciana to bring more scarves each time she visited.

Luciana was still strange and made her feel strange without her permission, but Martina’s heart did cartwheels whenever she heard her voice calling through the window, so maybe this was just another part of the outside world that she needed to become accustomed to. Her songs were becoming warmer, more dreamy, and the sky beyond the woods was looking more and more enticing, except when they fought, but that was what people did, and it did not feel so bad, either. Martina was learning many things.

She was pouring hot water into the bombilla when she said it, and she could feel herself become light headed as soon as the words escaped her mouth. Her mother made some side comment about how she had gained a bit of weight, and Martina replied that Luci was lighter, and her mother stared at her. Stared like she had just admitted that she was hiding a dead body under her bed or like she had just stabbed her through the heart.

Her mother’s face flushed to a deep purple, her eyes bulging, and she hissed, “You—you wicked child! I have given you everything and this is how you repay me? Abandonment?” Her spittle flew in Martina’s face, who backed away slowly, though there was no place to hide in the tower.

“I’m not…I just want to talk to people. That’s—that’s normal…” Martina stumbled over a basket near the wall, and when she looked up, her mother held a knife.

-

The birds were nestling down in their roosts, and the warm glow of the last rays of sunlight pierced the westernmost branches. Luciana urged her horse down the familiar path, tied her to the hitching post, and scrambled with a giddy grin on her face through the brambles. In her satchel was a pot of dulce de leche, a gift from one of the women at the village just north of the castle. Martina had practically clung to her the first time she had brought the treat; this time would hopefully be no different. She could just imagine Martina’s face when she saw what she had brought—her bright green eyes, her rosy cheeks, and her smile all aglow. Luciana could feel her heart flutter in her chest at the thought.

She sang out, “Martina, Martina, let down your hair!”

Without a word, Martina dropped her hair to the ground, and Luciana wasted no time in climbing it.

“Martina!” she called. “Guess what I brought—” Her words caught in her throat when she found, not Martina, but a smaller, squatter woman standing before her, with eyes like fire and a scowl like a hangman’s.

“Luci, I presume?” The woman’s voice sounded like ice cracking on a river.

Luciana swallowed heavily and force a smile. “Yep. Are you Tina’s mother?”

“So you are the one who has turned her against me? I would have predicted it to be a man, but a foe is a foe.”

“Where is Martina?”

“Straight to the point, hmm? Your pretty little bird will sing no more for you here; the cat has done away with it, and will scratch out your eyes, besides. You will never again see Rapunzel.”

“No,” Luciana protested, chin trembling. “No, you’re lying to me.”

“You don’t even believe your own words. I’ve spirited her away.”

This could not be true. Martina was in the tower somewhere. She never left the tower; how could that change now? She imagined Martina tripping through the woods, her dress ripped, her face bleeding, cold, lost, and afraid. She imagined her lying in a ravine somewhere, skin cold and gray with death. But…done away with…

“You killed her?” Luciana choked on the words.

“You are a sharp one,” the woman replied.

Luciana felt her body become ice cold, like someone had just submerged her in ice water. Her head felt like it was full of cotton, like it was suffocating her. She could not see straight. Her hands slipped on Martina’s cut hair, and she fell backward in slow motion, her stomach flipping over with her descent. The brambles reached out for her, inviting her, clawing at her eyes and leaving gashes on her skin. She screamed on reflex, desperation ripped from her throat, her own voice in her ears telling her that she was still alive after the fall. She tried to blink and it hurt; she tried to cry and it hurt. Everything hurt. The thorns stuck in her skin and her hair, and she rubbed at her eyes, but everything stayed dark. Not the dark of night or the dark of closed eyelids, but dark, the pitchest of blacks, the black of nothing, the black of loss. She fell unconscious on the soft ground.

She could only tell the passing of nights and days by the sounds of the animals of the woods. Her eyes ached, a throbbing just behind her skull, and the pain did not dissipate even when she slept. She stumbled around trees, eating berries and leaves, listening to Martina’s voice haunting her thoughts, a ghost in her mind that would not leave her alone.

She was lonely. She was afraid, and she wondered why death had not taken her sooner.

After days, maybe weeks, or maybe even months, for Luciana had long ago lost track of the passing of time, drifting along in waves of unconsciousness or consciousness, she came upon a grassland, the wind whipping at her face as it raced over the flat plains. She knew that she must be south of the woods, for the grasslands were south of her father’s kingdom. She wondered if anyone missed her. Well, it did not particularly matter, since she was the expendable child, the accident.

She wondered if Martina’s mother had even buried her, or if her body had been thrown in the woods—

She did not want to think about that. She choked on a lump in her throat when she tried to take a few deep breaths to clear her mind. There were some villages along the tree line to the south, if she remembered correctly. Maybe she could beg for food from the townspeople.

Martina’s voice was still in her head. It would not leave her alone, and out here on the plains, it sounded as clear as a mountain stream, as clear as the sky on a perfect summer day.

This time Martina was singing the song that she had first written for Luciana. Well, not that Martina would ever admit it, but Luciana knew that it was for her.

The song ended, and there was silence for a minute before a new song began, a song that Luciana did not recognize. This song was about lost love, like a cry to music, squeezing Luciana’s heart, and she could almost hear Martina calling to her over the plaintive strums of a guitar.

Almost like she was calling her name.

Luciana, my Luciana, Martina sang, Come back to me my love.

It sounded so real, calling over the plains for her. Luciana followed the sound, tripping over holes and tangles of grass. The singing only grew as she walked, and it sounded so real, so real that she thought she might die if it was all a dream. The ground below her changed, became more well trodden, and she sensed buildings around her. She stretched her arms out and felt a wall of thatch beneath her fingers. Martina’s voice was so loud that Luciana felt like she was drowning in it. When she called to her, the spell was broken.

Silence.

And then, “Luciana?” Martina’s voice sounded hollow, and then hopeful. “Luci? I—I knew you would come!”

Luciana heard a door creak, and then she felt soft arms wrap around her. She was painfully aware of how the weeks of foraging had taken a toll on her body, and she suddenly felt like collapsing in Martina’s arms now that she had found what she had not realized she was still looking for. The ends of Martina’s hair brushed against her cheek, and she clutched the back of her dress tightly in her fingers, not even caring that she might tear the fabric.

Martina kissed her forehead and led her inside the little house, where she sat her down on the end of the bed and began peeling her tattered clothes from her body as she chattered on.

“My mother banished me here when she found out about you, but it’s not really much of a banishment with the town so close, but I think she just wanted me out of her sight once she realized that her power over me was slipping. I was so worried about you, Luci, you have no idea, and I told the townspeople about you, and they said that you sounded like the King’s daughter who had gone missing—why didn’t you tell me you were a princess? Come on, Luci, I’m starting to sound like you, rambling on, and you haven’t said a word. Say something, won’t you?”

Luciana cleared her throat and shrugged. “The king is my father, but I’m no princess.” Her voice sounded harsh and raspy with disuse. “I thought you were dead.”

Martina rested her hands on Luciana’s knees—she must have knelt before her. “I knew you were alive, somehow. You couldn’t die without me knowing about it.”

“How can you be so sure of—of everything—” Luciana choked on half of a laugh.

Martina kissed her bare thigh. “You’re a mess. I’ll go fetch some water from the well to clean you up.” She began to rise, but Luciana reached out with a frantic hand to hold her in place.

“Please don’t go,” she pleaded. “Just—just stay here with me for a while.” She did not want to be alone again so soon, not when she had Martina right here, warm and alive with her.

“Are you sure? You’d be a lot more comfortable after a bath. And you’d smell better.” Martina’s hand petted her matted hair. “It’s so good to see you again.”

The tears welled up in Luciana’s eyes before she could stop them. She leaned her face into Martina’s hand and tried to blink them away.

“Look at me, Luci. Look at me. Tell me what’s wrong.” Martina guided her face up and kissed her lips.

“I can’t—” her voice broke stupidly, embarrassingly.

“You’re tired,” Martina told her, stroking a thumb against her cheek. “You’re starting to sound hysterical. Let me get the water so I can wash you up and put you to bed.”

“No.” Luciana shook her head. The movement made her dizzy. “I mean, yes, I’m tired, but that’s not it. I fell, and my eyes—I, I want to see you, Tina, you have no idea how badly I want to see you.”

There was a drawn out moment of silence as the words fell in place, and when Martina spoke next, her voice was tight. “Oh, Luciana…”

Luciana felt Martina’s lips over her eyelids, and then she pressed their faces together, shuddering. She brought her hands up to wrap around Martina’s shoulders, and she felt tears the were not her own on her cheeks.

“You’re going to be alright, I know it,” Martina mumbled against her lips as Luciana blinked against the tingling warmth and the glow that was building around the edges of her…vision.

Things were still out of focus, but there was light coming from somewhere, light she thought she was imagining until her eyes fell on the tips of Martina’s golden hair hanging just above her shoulders. Uncontrollable laughter bubbled from her throat.

“Are your tears magic or something?”

Martina shrugged heavily. “Yes. At least according to my mother. I mean, that woman.” She said the word like it was a curse.

“What have I done to deserve such a blessing?” Luciana asked, not giving Martina time to answer as she tilted her head to kiss her deeply. When she finally pulled away, both of their chests heaved for air. Martina’s smile was so bright and beautiful that Luciana thought she might cry again from the sight of it.

“I told you you were going to be alright,” Martin declared, triumph glinting in her eyes.

“Yes, you did.” Luciana kissed her again, light as a bird’s fluttering wing. “I think I’m ready for that bath now.”

While Martina prepared the bath water over the fire, Luciana was lulled to sleep by her singing, breathing in her sweet, lingering scent from the bed sheets, lonely no more.
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melissa_42

January 2012

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